“If you want to pursue your dreams, do not tell them to your mother”

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one. This week, we present: people issues.

The following post was translated from Elena Martín’s original on Idealist’s Spanish language site, Idealistas

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Was that good advice, or are you shutting me down?
(photo courtesy CleftClips, Flickr Creative Commons)

You have an idea for a project—but you can’t seem to get going.

When you share your idea, some people tell you you’re just a dreamy idealist; some say you should straighten up and get serious; others might leave it at “you’re crazy.” You start to doubt yourself and don’t take any more steps forward.

Have you ever stopped to think how the people around you might be affecting your actions?

A friend of mine once said, “If you want to pursue your dreams, do not tell them to your mother.”

Clearly not all mothers are risk averse, but my friend’s point was that we’re more prone to act when we don’t hear well-meaning naysaying—things like, “Why don’t you just look for a good job with a stable company?” This can be the case especially when it comes to innovative social impact projects.

We may know in our hearts that going a safe-and-steady route won’t make us happy, but it can still be hard to brush off the dissenting opinions of others—especially when they’re people we really care about. We don’t want to disappoint them, and when they know us well, their advice can seem more meaningful.

So how can you determine who around you might be unwittingly shutting you down—offering you “wise” advice that actually aims to prevent you from acting on your dreams?

Think about whether you know anyone who fits these descriptions:

  • Loving family or friends who discourage you because they don’t want to see you suffer if your idea fails.
  • People who also have good intentions, but have never tried to act on them, or have tried and failed. They might be discouraging because they don’t want to be shown up.
  • Natural born critics who are negative in nature. They prefer to see obstacles at every turn, because if they saw opportunities instead, they themselves wouldn’t have excuses for not trying.

Even if you know some people with the above tendencies, the good news is that not everyone is like that. The world is full of positive people who are full of energy and don’t subscribe to blanket negativity.

These people don’t lose focus; they think and do; they have goals and listen to what people have to say, but don’t let discouraging comments lead them away from their committed path.

So ask this question: how can I surround myself with these positive people, instead of with negative critics (even if they mean well)? Who do I know that fills me with energy and motivation, rather than leaving me focused on the dark side?

Identify these people and commit to spending more time with them; you’ll see how your attitude and your world will begin to change. Good energy, just like bad energy, is contagious!

Do you have a story about a well-meaning person who inadvertently kiboshed your plans? Have you found success in surrounding yourself with overtly positive people? Tell us in the comments.

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Comments (4)


  1. rensen writes:
    October 2, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Telling my mother my ambitions to save the world and not live with her got me into a lot of trouble. My mother called the nypd (new York City Police Department) on me and lied about something that got me arrested. She didn’t want me to move out of the house because she wanted to control me and my sexuality. There are mothers who play favorites with their children. The best thing for children to do is move out when you can. Get a bank account and learn how to manage your financial life early and get a credit card, but don’t use it more than once. You need good credit and not “no credit” or bad credit. Don’t be pessimistic (except with the economy), even if you run out of money to pay the rent. Marriage isn’t such a bad thing when you find that “non-crimminal” who loves you.


  2. Kathy Maloney Johnson writes:
    October 3, 2013 at 12:26 am

    My daughter studied abroad in Quito Ecuador, spent 6 weeks in a remote mountain village in the Dominican Republic, 27 months in Peace Corps Rwanda, now speaks the local Bantu language fluently, is studying public interest law in New Orleans and so on and so on. It bugs me that you blame irresoluteness on “mother”. I’m as much of a worry wart as any mother, I’m sure my daughter can verify that. Some of your audience ought to consider whether or not they have the courage and grounding to act on their ideals and not be so tempted to blame their mothers if they don’t.


  3. […] the Idealist blog, April Greene wisely counsels those entering the social change space, that if you want to pursue your dreams, don’t tell […]


  4. Chas writes:
    March 23, 2014 at 3:33 am

    Your last two paragraphs offers part of the solution. You must also listen to your own inner voice. Become the greatest version of yourself and not what others would have you be.


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